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'Yesterday' pays tribute to The Beatles by imagining a world without them

Himesh Patel stars in "Yesterday," which imagines a world in which only one man remembers The Beatles and their songs.

UNIVERSAL PICTURES/TNS

By PETER SBLENDORIO | New York Daily News | Published: June 27, 2019

It’s a notion that would leave Beatles fans Here, There and Everywhere crying out for Help!

A world without the transcendent songs of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr seems almost impossible to imagine nearly six decades after the Fab Four changed music forever.

But that’s the concept explored in "Yesterday," a new movie where everybody except one man forgets about The Beatles.

"In reality, if they didn’t exist, the world would be an infinitely more different place and it’s hard to really unravel that thread," star Himesh Patel, 28, told the Daily News. "The aim of the movie is to use this conceit of them disappearing to kind of conversely celebrate how amazing their music is and how important it is in terms of its love. How the message of so many of the songs is love and friendship and celebration of what’s best in people."

In the movie opening June 28, Patel portrays a struggling musician named Jack Malik who gets hit by a bus during a sudden electrical blackout and wakes up as the only person who knows The Beatles.

Jack starts to pass off Beatles classics like "Let It Be" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" as his own and is catapulted to international fame, while wrestling with guilt over taking credit for someone else’s work.

The chance to honor The Beatles’ legacy in such a unique way excited director Danny Boyle.

"It allows you to be both wonderfully respectful of the songs, and certainly in Himesh’s performance you’ve got moments of real magic with him performing the songs, but it allows you to also be disrespectful to the songs, which is a very healthy thing," Boyle, 62, told The News. "He can’t remember ’Eleanor Rigby’ . They re-title one of the greatest songs ever written from ’Hey Jude’ to ’Hey Dude.’ "

Lily James, who stars as Jack’s manager and best friend Ellie, appreciates how "Yesterday" shows The Beatles would have been revolutionary no matter when they existed.

"It’s such incredible songwriting that it would always cause a phenomenon," James, 30, told The News. "It would always be something that would be heralded as a huge musical moment in history because their songs, and what they wrote and how their music changed through the albums, and what they express . that’s obviously all timeless."

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The makers of "Yesterday" got the rights to use Beatles songs, and Boyle says McCartney and Starr have been supportive of the movie, which was written by Richard Curtis. They sent the film to the music legends upon completion.

"We thought as a courtesy we should send it to them to show what we tried to do with these wonderful songs," Boyle said. "We got a wonderful letter back (from) Ringo. Very special, quite personal, very lovely."

The Oscar-winning director said they reached out to McCartney as a courtesy to ask about naming the movie "Yesterday" after his song.

"He was very funny," Boyle said. "He wrote back (to Curtis) and said, ’Well, you know the original title of that song was ’Scrambled Eggs.’ Maybe you should consider that.’"

Patel learned to play piano at a young age and taught himself to play guitar, though he says he "had to improve quite a bit for the movie."

He enjoyed putting his own twist on Beatles songs. "It was just an organic process, really, of seeing how they sounded when I kind of played them my own way," Patel said.

Much of the movie focuses on Jack’s relationship with Ellie, the one person who always believed in him. She’s deeply in love with Jack, but he’s blind to it as he prioritizes his music dreams.

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